Serbia's Nikola Jovovic sets a ball for Marko Podrascanin
Lausanne, Switzerland, June 13, 2017 - A repeat of last year’s final between reigning FIVB Volleyball World League champions Serbia and Olympic champions Brazil highlights week three of this year's World League, which will also see the 2017 Group 3 winners decided in Mexico.
And Serbia captain Marko Podrascanin has issued a warning. “We are improving game by game and day by day. And we are going to Argentina to try to win all our games because we are a good, young team.”
With five victories and 15 points to their name ahead of their matches against Argentina, Bulgaria and Brazil, the Serbians are on the cusp of securing a ticket for the Group 1 Finals. Two of the six finalists are already confirmed: hosts Brazil will be joined by European champions and 2015 World League winners France.
Brazil's new coach Renan Dal Zotto, on the other hand, will turn to the big-names in his star-studded ensemble for the clash of the titans on Sunday in Cordoba, Argentina, after giving some of his young players a run-out recently.
“We gave these talented players a chance to show their potential. Now, in the final stretch, we will be with the full group in Argentina and then for the finals at home,” said Dal Zotto, who can call on experienced players like Wallace de Souza, Raphael Vieira De Oliveira and Luiz Felipe Marques Fonteles.
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The favourites suffered a shock 0-3 defeat to Serbia in the final of last year’s FIVB World League. You can watch some of the highlights of the spectacular 2016 final in this video.
Brazil will be satisfied with nothing less than a historic tenth title in the top tier of national teams when they do battle in the Final Round of Group 1 in their home venue of Curitiba from July 4 to 8. And the repeat of the final against Serbia on Sunday serves as the dress rehearsal for the Final Six.
The French have been the stand-out team so far with a flawless record of 18 points from six wins. They have qualified for the grand finale for the third time in a row with matches to spare. The team, which includes the top scorer in this year’s FIVB World League so far – Stephen Boyer – will welcome back another of its stars for the final Preliminary Round weekend: Earvin Ngapeth, MVP in the 2015 FIVB World League, Ngapeth will make his return from injury. “Earvin Ngapeth comes back with us for Antwerp even if he’s still recovering. But we need to prepare him for Curitiba,” said head coach Laurent Tillie.
France will take on Italy, hosts Belgium and Canada in Antwerp. Promoted last season, the Canadians have been one of the positive surprises of this year’s FIVB World League and, with three wins to their name, are still in with a good chance of progressing to the final round.
“We want to use our home advantage and go to the Final Six,” said Belgium’s coach Vital Heynen.
Week three kicks off on Thursday in Katowice with matches between Iran and USA, and hosts and world champions Poland against Russia. Poland and Iran are also well placed with three wins each. Poland’s Maciej Muzaj is hoping for a boost from the passionate Polish fans: “Let’s see what we can do in front of the home crowd.”
The three places up for grabs at the Group 2 Finals on Australia’s Gold Coast (June 24-25) – hosts Australia are guaranteed a place – will be decided from Friday to Sunday in Group 2.
In pole position are Slovenia, who were promoted last year. The Slovenians are the only team to have won five of their six Preliminary Round matches so far. The European silver medallists, led by top scorer Tine Urnaut, are up against three teams in Cairo with virtually no chance of qualifying for the grand finale: hosts Egypt, Finland and Portugal.
The Netherlands are currently second in the table and have a good chance of qualifying at their home tournament in The Hague. However, the hosts, who have won four matches so far, must take on Slovakia (four wins), Korea (three wins) and the Czech Republic (three wins), three teams which still harbour hopes of progressing to the final round. Japan also have four wins to their name, and will be fighting hard for one of the coveted tickets when they take on Australia, hosts China and Turkey in Kunshan.
Leon, Mexico, is the venue for the Group 3 Finals. Hot favourites are 2014 FIVB Volleyball Men's World Championship bronze medallists Germany, who topped the table after the Preliminary Round. Germany captain Christian Fromm said: "We want to win this tournament. We cannot afford to show any weakness. We have to start fully focused in every game and avoid mistakes.” Spain, Estonia and hosts Mexico will not make life easy for the Germans.